Witnesses to Amelia Whatarau being fatally burned refuse to talk to police

Amelia Whatarau died after receiving fatal burns on Christmas Day, 2012.

Amelia Whatarau died after receiving fatal burns on Christmas Day, 2012.

Police have reached an impasse in an investigation into how a woman suffered fatal burns, after witnesses refused to tell them what happened.

Amelia "Mina" Whatarau, 42, suffered fatal burns to the upper half of her body at a Hastings property at about 7pm on Christmas Day 2012. She died while being treated in Middlemore Hospital's burns unit five days later.

Whatarau and others had been socialising at a home in Buckingham St, Whakatu, about 5km out of Hastings, when neighbours called police after hearing an argument.

One neighbour said it was "completely out of hand ... it was just so physical and so noisy, the whole street would have heard as they just started absolutely going ballistic".

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The neighbour said the argument spilled into the backyard, then a sudden plume of dark, black smoke erupted above the fenceline and Whatarau started screaming.

Her partner, Kiel Haraki, 49, was also treated for burns.

It was understood Whatarau's daughter and a close family friend were also at the house at the time.

Detective Senior Sergeant Dave de Lange said police were still investigating the incident and the matter was now being referred to the coroner "but from a police perspective the investigation remains open".

"There are people who were present at Amelia's home when she received her fatal burns we would like to formally interview before making any decision on if there is or is not any criminal liability relating to Amelia's death or events that day," de Lange said.

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"Obviously if any members of the public have information that will assist police with details of the full circumstances around what happened on Christmas Day 2012 they should contact the Hawke's Bay Police," he said.

The family declined to comment when approached on Thursday.

Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said "the default position is that you ordinarily need not, during an investigation, co-operate, even if it's not self-incriminatory".

"Even if police say 'look we're not accusing you, we just want to know what you saw someone else do, a witness can still say 'with all due respect I do not wish to co-operate," Hodge said.

The exceptions were in matters of alleged financial crime and workplace investigations. 

"The Serious Fraud Office has the power to compel production of documents and compel people to sit for interviews. Similarly, if it was an accident in a workplace, the inspectorate of Worksafe can compel witnesses to talk," Hodge said.

"The more we watch TV and American programmes like CSI, the more we think that a careful scientific investigation will always produce the evidence and get the bad guy. In the real world, basically crime is solved by talking to people, and people, most of the time, agree to talk to police. But they don't have to," he said.



 - Stuff

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